Last Tuesday, on a freezing ‘mad March’ evening, guests gathered at the Jerwood Space for the opening of the Jerwood Painting Fellowships 2013. It was an exciting moment for Anthony Faroux, Susan Sluglett and Sophia Starling, the three emergent artists who were awarded a bursary of £10,000 and the opportunity to be mentored by artists and selectors, Marcus Harvey, Mali Morris and Fabian Peake. The (selected) fruits of their (past year of) labours have been collectively hung throughout the galleries, in a bold and invigorating display. The critical questions of painting – about materiality, abstraction, scale, mark-making, colour – feel ever-present, coursing within and between the works, which have been arranged to play off one another delightfully.
In a fitting reflection of the three parties involved in the fellowships (the Jerwood team, the mentors and the artists) there were three speeches: from Tim Eyles, the Chair of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, from Mali Morris on behalf of the mentors and from Susan Sluglett on behalf of her fellow fellows. While each had an individual charm, I was so moved by Mali Morris’s words (indeed, at one point, she too paused to settle her voice) that I wanted to re-print the heart of her message here:
‘It all began with a selection process and interviews and then a cheque in the post to the three new fellows, with twelve months for them to draw breath, make work and finally this exhibition. When I heard about the terms of the fellowship I liked the way that the award didn’t specify what the money should be spent on. It buys time of course, maybe studio rent, probably materials, equipment – perhaps it brings confidence and an opportunity to take more risks than usual.
‘Fifteen years ago there was a survey amongst writers about the relationship of their financial situation to their output. When asked what advice he might have for the new generation, especially concerning awards, Will Self declared his approval of the Henri Bergson prize for young writers, which is offered for one year on the strict understanding that they undertook not to write anything at all. I prefer Hilary Mantel’s advice: there must be sufficient money for champagne to cheer up friends whose work has been rejected. We don’t know exactly what the money was spent on by our fellows, Anthony, Sophia and Susan, but whatever it was, their work has intensified. It has gained in scope and ambition and confidence to a pretty amazing degree.
‘In 1963, I received a kind of award myself, along with many others: a grant to study for a degree in Fine Art. This paid for tuition fees and living costs and it shaped my future in ways that I never could have predicted. My generation thought these opportunities would be forever and for everybody. How wrong we were. More recently we were incredulous that politicians would challenge the inclusion of so-called creative subjects – art, music, drama and so on – in the core curriculum of our schools. Wrong again. But we are objecting and we will continue to object to this bad thinking, which belittles the whole idea of creative life.
‘The Jerwood Charitable Foundation is not political but it believes in a practical way of encouraging artists, practitioners, performers of all kinds to make the most of their talent and ambition and to make their way in the world… which these days is not so easy.’
Hear, Hear, was the consensus of the room.